A Sample of Historical Bankruptcy Cases
Stylized petition for bankruptcy circa 1920. Image by Ben Gregson.
Over 34 million individuals and businesses have used the federal bankruptcy law since 1898.
Would you be surprised to find out that researchers and policymakers interested in studying the causes and consequences of bankruptcy can readily download detailed information about just a few hundred bankrupt households and virtually no bankrupt businesses?
This project aims to stimulate interdisciplinary research on the causes and consequences of bankruptcy and on the history of credit markets more generally by:
- Photographing key documents from a representative sample of cases filed under the bankruptcy laws of 1898 and 1978 through partnership with the National Archives,
- Constructing a data set from the information on the key documents, and
- Distributing the data for widespread use through the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.
We took almost 525,000 photographs of documents from more than 25,000 cases files in 24 federal district courts located in 18 states.
We have published papers, working papers, dissertations, and undergraduate theses using data from cases filed in
- Maryland (Baltimore division) between 1940 and 2002,
- Mississippi (six division courts in the Northern and Southern districts) during the Great Depression, and
- Missouri (St. Louis court in the Eastern district and Kansas City court in the Western district) between 1898 and 1945.
We continue to transcribe and clean data.
We appreciate the support of the funders who contributed to the project to create A Sample of Historical Bankruptcy Cases.
American University Faculty Research Support Grant (2011-12)
American University College of Arts and Sciences Mellon Grant (2011)
Rutgers University Faculty Research Grant (2012)
Institute for New Economic Thinking (Grant ID INO11-00044), "Emergency Preservation of Federal Bankruptcy Court Records," (co-PI Michelle Miller, Rutgers Business School; subcontract to Tarun Sabarwal, University of Kansas) August 1, 2011-December 31, 2012
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (Grant Number 2011-6-16), "Digital Preservation of Bankruptcy Court Records, 1898-2000," (co-PI Michelle Miller, Rutgers Business School) September 15, 2011-October 31, 2012
National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education, "Opening New Views into Bankruptcy and Credit Markets Using Court Records," January 1, 2013-December 31, 2013
National Science Foundation, Economics Program Dissertation Improvement Grant (SES-1324468), " Doctoral Dissertation Research in Economics: The Impact of Medicare on Bankruptcy," dissertation supervisor for Megan Fasules, August 15, 2013-July 31, 2014
National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education, "Continuing Funding for Opening New Views into Bankruptcy and Credit Markets Using Court Records," January 1, 2014-June 30, 2014
National Science Foundation, Economics and Law and Social Sciences Programs (SES-1355742), " Collaborative Research: Opening New Views into Bankruptcy and Credit Markets Using Court Records," June 1, 2014-May 31, 2016
Loyola Marymount University, Rains Research Assistant Program, 2013-2016
Loyola Marymount University, Bellarmine Research Award Program, 2015-2016
Special access to the holdings of the National Archives is provided by Agreement with American University. The National Archives plans to make the photographs taken under this agreement available to the public through its Online Public Access.
Mary Eschelbach Hansen, American University
Co-Investigators on Sponsored Awards
Michelle McKinnon Miller, Loyola Marymount University
John Parman, The College of William & Mary
Tarun Sabarwal, The University of Kansas
Collaborators on Papers
Nicolas L. Ziebarth, Auburn University
Bradley A. Hansen, University of Mary Washington
John Pedersen, PhD Candidate, Binghamton University
Contributors to Proposals
Dov Cohen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Joseph Mason, Louisiana State University
Project Consultants and Advisors
Lendol Caldor, Augustana College
Richard Hynes, University of Virginia